Employment & labour minister Thulas Nxesi. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Employment & labour minister Thulas Nxesi. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

The DA is demanding answers after the department of labour & employment spent millions of taxpayers' money to send a large delegation to a 12-day International Labour Organisation (ILO) conference in Geneva, Switzerland, in June.

The 62-member delegation, which included President Cyril Ramaphosa, was considered the largest delegation from any country and included officials from the newly reconfigured employment & labour department and other stakeholders, such as trade unions and the business fraternity.

A source at the department told Business Day in June that staff members were unhappy SA was sending the largest delegation compared with other countries.

The official said some had dismissed the trip as an excuse for a “jol”, paid for by taxpayers. The department was said to have paid for air tickets, hotel accommodation, transport and cash allowances for the trip.

The ILO is a UN agency that deals with social justice and sets international labour standards. Its international labour conference is an annual gathering of governments, labour and business to deliberate on issues of mutual interest.

On Wednesday, DA shadow minister of employment & labour Michael Cardo said a recent reply to a parliamentary question revealed that the department had spent a staggering R3.5m on the trip.

He said the opposition party will write to labour & employment minister Thulas Nxesi to request “a full, detailed report” on whether the objectives of the trip were achieved.

The report would then be tabled before the parliamentary portfolio committee on employment & labour, said Cardo. He stressed that the public deserved to know the breakdown of costs for each of the delegates that attended “[like] what they achieved and how they contributed; and how the department will be implementing the lessons learned from the trip to help the 10.2-million unemployed South Africans”.

Cardo revealed that the average cost per delegate was “almost an astronomical R100,000”.

He said that if no tangible solutions to solve joblessness came from the trip to Geneva it would have been nothing more than “a luxury vacation to one of the world’s most expensive cities and a colossal waste of public money”.

Cardo’s remarks came a day after statistician-general Risenga Maluleke told the nation that SA’s unemployment rate climbed to an 11-year high of 29%, during the second quarter of the year, a remarkable increase from the 27.6% recorded in the first quarter.

There were 6.7-million people without jobs in the three months to the end of June, and the figure jumps to over 10.2-million when the number of discouraged job seekers is included.

“In the face of unprecedented levels of unemployment and economic stagnation, austerity measures are a necessity for government. The jamboree to Geneva seems difficult to justify,” said Cardo.

“The department would do better to channel its energy and resources to helping the more than 10-million unemployed South Africans get a foot on the labour market ladder.”

Nxesi’s spokesperson, Sabelo Mali, said Nxesi, from his previous portfolio as public works minister, had maintained the belt-tightening principle, particularly from his office and from senior officials.

“That’s the stance that he’s maintained previously. But on this trip, the arrangements had already been made regarding the delegates that were going to the ILO conference,” said Mali.

“Historically, he has always travelled with one of his advisers and his PA, he is not a person of big delegations.”

Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali, who attended the conference, was confident that Nxesi should “find it easy” to account about the trip, saying: “Look, this was a conference, they [DA] can look at the conventions that were adopted there. Anyone who says this [trip] was a wasteful expenditure needs to have his mind examined.”

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za